How reading develops imagination and how to give a child the reading spark

Contributed by Kate Heap

Teaching consultant and author

Fri 5 Mar 2021

As we celebrated World Book Day this week, I started thinking about how reading develops imagination and how there’s never been a time when I didn’t love books. They have always been my friends, and I spent many childhood hours lost in my imagination as I followed the characters’ adventures inside their pages. 

As a child in Regina, Canada, two places were very special to me: our local library and my school library. They were safe, comfortable places and full of friends – books. My hometown children’s library is still my ultimate book place; bright, colourful and full of illustrations of the characters from my favourite stories. This was where I discovered Curious George by Margret and H. A. Rey, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, and Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene.

Book characters can feel as real to children as their school friends. Through them, they explore different sides to themselves, become brave enough to try new things and figure out what is important to them. Aspirations are unlocked, and, perhaps for the first time, they fantasise about who they can become. 

To experience this self-discovery, children must be familiar with the wealth of classic children’s literature from the UK and the wider world. These books are full of rich language and exciting adventures. Through these timeless tales, children travel to worlds and times different from their own and lose themselves in the lives of unforgettable characters. 

Once children get a taste of these wonderful stories, they want to read more and often find books they may not otherwise discover. They meet fascinating characters and soon realise that people are basically the same throughout history. These characters want to have adventures, find friends and be loved, just as they do. Classic literature also allows children to expand their understanding of the world, giving them tools to make links between literature, history, geography, science and many other areas.

Libraries are essential for giving children access to those books and characters. Here, they start to break down misconceptions that readers are only those who can focus on lengthy novels for long periods. Magazines, graphic novels, non-fiction, picture books, gaming manuals and comics are valuable reading types accessible to children through libraries. Once children realise there are so many types of readers and so many types of reading materials, the world opens up, as reading sparks their imagination.

The updated curriculum needs new teaching books

My passion for literacy and desire to help children find this spark led me to become a teacher, with English as a specialism. Over 20 years, I developed my knowledge of the teaching and leadership of Primary English and Assessment while supporting colleagues’ professional development. As an Advanced Skills Teacher, I had a wide impact on schools across my city and enjoyed working with others in the local authority.

In July 2019, I decided it was time to start the next stage in my career. I left my school position to begin a new challenge as a Primary English Consultant and author of books for teachers. Whether I’m advising companies on the development of online English resources, writing materials for schools or sharing with the wider education community on Twitter, it is very rewarding to contribute to children’s education around the country.

While still teaching, I realised there was a gap in the commercial reading resources for Key Stage Two (KS2) – Classic Literature and Classic Poetry. In recent years, we have seen several changes to the KS2 English Curriculum, the KS2 Reading Test Framework, and pupils’ overall expectations. A focus on higher-level vocabulary and increased use of more classic-style texts and language has challenged both teachers and children. I wanted to write books that would show teachers how to approach these texts with confidence. 

I teamed up with Brilliant Publications to create Developing Reading Comprehension Skills – a series of eight reading comprehension books for children, focusing on high-quality literature and the full range of content domain question types assessed in the KS2 SATs. The series gives children opportunities to tackle more complex vocabulary, explore how authors use language to impact their readers and develop endurance for longer passages.  To support the adults using the books, each begins with guidance and strategies for teaching the eight different question types, plus suggestions for embedding these texts in the wider English curriculum.

Books2All blog: How reading develops imagination and how to give a child the reading spark
The first two books in Kate Heap’s Developing Reading Comprehension Skills series published by Brilliant Publications

The Developing Reading Comprehension Skills series is suitable for new and recently qualified teachers and those who are more experienced looking to expand the range of texts they use. These books are useful in the classroom for home learning and long-term home education. Although aimed at Key Stage Two, they would also be appropriate in Key Stage Three for supporting children who have not yet reached the expected Year 6 standard.

The first two books in the series, Years 5-6: Classic Literature and Years 5-6: Classic Poetryare now available from Brilliant Publications, Waterstones and Amazon (print and Kindle versions). Future books in the series will be: Years 3-4: Classic LiteratureYears 3-4: Classic PoetryYears 5-6: Contemporary FictionYears 3-4: Contemporary FictionYears 5-6: Non-fiction and Years 3-4: Non-fiction

How reading develops imagination: sharing books, news and events

In October 2019, I launched my blog, ‘Scope for Imagination’. Changing from teacher to author gave me more time to share the wonderful children’s books I had been using with my classes, promoting to school staff and reading with my children at home. Through blogging, I connect with publishers and authors and share new books with teachers and parents. 

It can be easy for teachers to stick to a text they have used for years. My blog encourages them to try something new and broaden their offering to children. I focus on the key messages and themes of the books I am sharing – how they will inspire young readers to use their imagination and how teachers can use them in class. Through social media, I share specific recommendations that match a teacher’s or parent’s needs. 

Blogging is also a great way to share the brilliant online events that are happening each week. Literary festivals, author talks and book launches have become more accessible since life moved online in 2020. Promoting these means many more children, families and schools can access the wider world of books.

Books2All blog: How reading develops imagination and how to give a child the reading spark
A page from Kate’s blog, ‘Scope for Imagination’

One of my favourite books, Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, inspired my blog. Of all the many books I’ve read, none have stayed with me, like the Anne of Green Gables series. Anne is truly a kindred spirit; she becomes immersed in her love of literature and does not hesitate to share it with others. Anne has a wonderful imagination and lives a happy life as she pursues her passions:

“It’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”

As a teacher and a parent, it is my privilege and pleasure to share my love of literature with children. Reading widely has brought me joy, encouragement, hope and dreams. I have this wish for every child. Inside a book, there is no limit to who you can be or what you can achieve through the power of reading and imagination. Finding that reading spark through the right books is one of the most precious gifts a child can receive. 

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